Welcome to the Ligurian Capital!
A leisurely walk along the old town with locals and tourists alike, a stroll down the seaport with busy men and women—it’s a beautiful and cold afternoon in the Italian city of Genoa.
“Where is Genoa? Why are you there?”, my mom on the phone asked as I was arranging my stuff to get off the train. I was actually on my way to spend a week in Cinque Terre with my best friend and only had to change trains in Genoa but my ever-curious and insatiable wanderlust dragged me to do more than just stop over. From that moment when the announcement was made that we have reached Stazione Genova Piazza Principe, I was still fixed on sleeping in that B&B that we booked in Cinque Terre later that night. But as we got off the station, I looked around and joked, “What if we stayed here for a night, just for the heck of it?” I did try to resist the idea but the crazier the idea got, the more we got excited and went our way! We ended up exploring the city from the very night of our arrival, and it was such a treat to see Genoa both under moonlight and daylight as both had different aspects of beauty to it.
Genoa: Birthplace of the Great Explorer Columbus
It is quite puzzling how Genoa has not gotten as popular as its Italian historical neighbors. Yes, we know Rome is an exception, and perhaps, so is Venice, but how was Genoa forgotten or not made popular as Milan or Florence? I suppose half of you might not even know Genoa is Christopher Columbus’ (or Cristoforo Colombo’s, to be more precise) birthplace. His childhood home is now a museum and still stands not too far from the city center.
Otherwise known as Genova in Italian, it is the Ligurian region’s capital. It holds the largest seaport in all of Italy and is therefore one of Italy’s major economic centers. You would see both industrial and luxury cruise ships docking at Genoa all year round. The city is lively, beautiful and scenic, offering more than the usual Euro-Mediterranean tourist fare.
The Glorious History of Genoa
Genoa is incredibly rich in cultural and historical heritage. Before it became a part of Italy, it was an independent city-state with its own citizens, government and language. It was Western Mediterranean’s richest city, one of Europe’s wartime strongholds and its history dates back to prehistoric times, with records of its existence from as early as 200 BC. It had witnessed several wars through eras—Punic, Gothic, Medieval, to World Wars I and II, you name it. Eventually, it became the Republic of Genoa in the Middle Ages, amassing immense wealth and power through maritime trade, commerce, banking, shipbuilding and territorial colonization reaching as far as cities in France, the Middle East and Northern Africa. However, after hundreds of years of subjugation under stronger empires, Genoa’s power weakened until it never recovered the glory and success it had enjoyed in the earlier centuries. However, the medieval architecture, the palaces, churches, monuments and even harbors, stood the test of time and are still around for visitors to enjoy. The bustling port is already an attraction in itself; it is also where you will find a pirate galleon, a waterfront boardwalk and the Aquarium of Genoa which is Italy’s largest and one of Europe’s. Via Garibaldi (originally Strada Nuova), the prime historical street that houses the ancient palaces of Genoa’s richest, is my favorite spot for sightseeing; its quarter of a kilometer length is already full of interesting things to see—from an ornate museum to someone’s front yard that has a dome entrance and a two-storey tall statue with waterfalls. Wow…just wow.
Accommodation and More Sightseeing
There is no shortage at all of hotels, hostels and B&Bs. My favorite lodging is the Grand Hotel Savoia, which is just right across Piazza Principe Railway Station. It was built in 1897 and it features rooms designed to make you feel like you’re in the Renaissance period, looking out to your balcony, giving you a panoramic view of Genoa. They have a restaurant that gives the impression of a formal dress code and they also have a jacuzzi on the roof deck level, where the view is a feast for the eyes—where you can bask in the Italian sunshine while sipping cocktails or champagne and pretend like an Italian aristocrat—all for a price that will not break the bank!
No Italian city is complete without the piazzas, palazzos, fountains and impressively designed churches. My favorite is a Catholic cathedral called Basilica Della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, constructed in the 17th century in full baroque artistry. I suggest that you check it out both at daytime and nighttime. No picture does the beauty in the stillness and tranquility of the church any justice, when the lights are off except for the amber lights by the entrance, and it is as if nobody else is there besides you. I noticed that Ligurian churches are big on golden hues, and that just makes them all the more glisten in glamor and grandeur!
Speaking of favorites, dare I say that everyone’s favorite pesto sauce originated in this region? The most delicious variant which is an Italian menu staple, Pesto Alla Genovese, speaks for itself! Focaccia and minestrone soup are also native to Genoa. Most restaurants offer Trofie al Pesto, which at first sounded very foreign to me, only to find out that trofie is another variation of pasta from this region; it is short, small and twisted…and yummy! Be it hot chocolate or espresso (or both!) that you choose to end your meal with, the delightful and gratifying satiety from Genoese cuisine is just one of many reasons to visit Genoa and explore its underrated wonders!
There are more things about Genoa that I fell in love with, which I reckon you better find out for yourself. Ciao!